Heather Casey and Erin Hart detail the many problems Block Parties Bring to The Gainesville Community and Question the City Council and Police Response to Gun Violence.
Q: Did you hear any gunshots that night?
Heather: I didn't, because I came after. I got here around 1:30-1:35 but we have so many customers that did hear them. One of our customers went out to get something from his car right before the shooting started. He felt a bullet graze his head before seeing the person next to him get hit and fall to the ground. At this point is when the crowd jumped in here to get to safety.
Q: Does this happen often?
Erin: This isn't the first time, this is the 6th or 7th time.
Heather: Our Kava tenders often close at 12:00 am or as late as 1:00 am on the weekends, and they've had to let people in to take cover, it's a scary thing.
Erin: We’re a safe place for people to run to which is why we open the door. It always happens after we’re closed and the people at the door are always scared. We got locked in one time. We went to leave at 12:00 or 1:00 at night. We went over to get to our car, and there were cars parked everywhere, blocking every exit. There's no way to get out. There aren’t even any people in the cars. Nobody's with their vehicles and nobody can leave the parking lot. We end up not leaving till 3:30 am. We talked to a cop, and he said, “What do you think we can do about it?” So, we called dispatch and he said, "We already got a guy down there, what are we supposed to do?" It's like your cops, can't you do anything.
Heather: On multiple occasions, I have witnessed our customers' and employees' cars being sat on. We had an incident about two or three years ago with a block party when this happened to a customer. He asked them nicely to move twice and when he got in his car and started it, they began to attack his vehicle. Since this situation happened, he hasn't felt comfortable enough to come here along with many other customers. They feel afraid and unsafe, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when many of these block parties take place. These events drive away people from Downtown, so that's a big concern. Another concern is the safety of our employees. It is very hard to keep girl kava tenders because I think they're afraid, it's getting worse and worse. It's unsafe for our employees to go out to the parking lot and get their cars with this going on.
Q: How was the overall police response?
Heather: The first officer we spoke with was decent, but it still felt like everything was in complete chaos. He was telling people you can't walk this way and we’re like listen, our employee called, and we have to get down to the store. We didn't know if everyone was okay. The cop did direct us where to walk, but besides this interaction, it felt like everything was chaos. One of the biggest things I saw in person was there were several groups of cops laughing and joking about the situation. There were 5 of them right in front of those trash cans. I didn't hear every word said but I know for an absolute fact they were mocking and making body motions of what happened. It almost brought tears to my eyes cause they're actually joking, and making fun of the fact we were dealing with a shooting. They were just standing there, laughing, making a joke of this. It was really upsetting to see.
Q: The police audio details how they blocked the streets off, what did this look like?
Heather: They had this whole street blocked off, there was a cop car on the left side over here but there wasn't one on the right side. So, this person silly enough drove through, a younger kid, and he got stopped here because the caution tape went across. A female cop treated this kid like complete shit, she was very demeaning, she tried to open his car from the inside and then ripped the handle on the outside. Then these other cops came and just started screaming at this kid and treating this person like a piece of trash. They made the kid get out of his car, get his stuff, and walk away. Then they towed his car. I don't know the protocol but he wasn't drunk or being belligerent and we could hear pretty much everything going on. She literally said, "Just Fucking Walk". So, he got his guitar and started walking and a cop went over to him, and I don't know what happened with that.
We ended up sitting there just waiting for mobs and mobs of people and cars to move so we could get out. We were sitting with the windows down and witnessing police officers flirting with women, talking very provocatively to them, and taking pictures with them. It is very inappropriate. We even heard one say, "Oh yeah I'll see you at the after-party.”
A couple of cops we saw were walking around with AR-15s on their shoulders. There were a few of them. It was very surreal.
There's one video my dad got, a fancy Lamborghini, and the lady and guy driving the car got out and started dancing, causing so many traffic backups, people are honking and going crazy while she’s just dancing in her G string and I'm like what the hell is going on. Meanwhile, the cops aren't doing anything but blocking the intersection. They just sit by watching. These things down here that we have seen, witnessed, and overheard are just not normal.
Q: Many reports on this story say there were two shootings, yet the audio files say three. Do you have any insight on this?
Erin: We had one cop say there were two shootings and then we had another cop say there were three. The first cop said three and the second cop said two. Like we already know there were three.
Heather: And they’re all separate incidents which to me is honestly even scarier. It's not just one person doing it; these are separate occurrences. We heard about a guy getting jumped after he was shot and that's not even in the audio. We’re told multiple people saw this in front of Main Street Billiards. We've had customers that had to be walked out because the people out there are not friendly. We've had so many customers and employees that have had this issue and these past 2 years it's been getting worse and worse.
Erin: It wasn't long ago too, they said Gainesville had the highest crime rate in the state of Florida and we thought there was no way until we started looking at statistics. It's crazy, we got here in 2017 and the last year and a half has been so much worse, its been shooting after shooting after shooting. We've even had hit-and-runs.
Heather: This past year and a half it's been getting progressively worse. Our heads have been spinning with this, now we have property damage, a broken window, which isn’t as bad as someone losing their lives or getting shot but now that’s something we have to deal with too. It seems like every time an event like that block party is held, we hear a gunshot. Exactly a month ago from that shooting, there was another shooting from a club that had a music venue come in and a bunch of people came in from Jacksonville. I believe this event was called the Jonesville takedown. It was hosted through Simon's Nightclub. In Simon's, they check people before they come in so it's safer. An employee told us a fight broke out inside, but then they took it outside and it got worse. I could not find any information about this event anywhere and I’m like who is advertising this, how is this being promoted, and why would a business owner promote this in the community? I feel at this point the owner of Simon’s needs to be doing something and they’re just MIA.
Q: Have there been any meetings between business owners and the police or city council to discuss solutions?
Heather: About a year ago, all the downtown businesses had a meeting with the police about this issue and it felt like a joke. They didn't really have a solution for the problem. Their idea was to get all the business owners to form some sort of neighborhood watch.
Erin: They wanted the businesses to be a citizen’s patrol. They said we basically have to do everything
Heather: They were like, as soon as you see something going on, call us.
Erin: In the meeting Levels Nightclub had asked if they could have cops at the door for an upcoming event and they were told they don’t do detail anymore. We've talked about an idea of making it where they require a permit to host a block party. It has to be more regulated. Our number one concern is safety.
Q: What do you think it would take for the city government to do something?
Erin: It'll take a student getting shot and killed cause that's the only time they do anything.
Heather: That’s what they did with the speed bumps. A student was run over so they did that. I think the main thing that’s going to drive this home is when UF students' parents get wind of how bad its become. When it starts affecting the college's pockets that's when something will happen, just like with the speed bumps. That is the reality of this small college town.
Q: How does the situation in Gainesville compare to other parts of Florida you’ve lived in?
Erin: I'm from Lake Worth and Lake Worth is bad, shootings all the time, crime rates are very high, and I feel like this is pretty much the same thing.
Heather: Comparing where I’m from, Ft Lauderdale to here, I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen the police just sit back and let this stuff go on. I've never seen the police take action in getting the crowds broken up or be here for safety. Where I'm from, when an event like this was held it was a concert and you were in the concert, not just an outdoor block party where you can bring 500 people and just block the streets. It just wasn't allowed. The city of Gainesville and the police are all responsible for allowing this to go on. They know of it, they are aware of it, and nothing is being done.
Q: Are there any upcoming block parties you’re concerned about?
Erin: There's an event coming up with one of the rappers Kodak Black and I was reading quite a lot about his history, background, and his fanbase. It is very gang-related, one of the most dangerous gangs in Miami, and that's terrifying to me because they’re gonna be here next weekend and we have to prepare. I would really like to know if the city of Gainesville or the police have a plan. Are they going to have extra security personnel to make crowds stay calm?
Heather: He’s performing at the O'Connell Center and they’re doing the after-party at Simon’s. An employee from there has told us this block party is going to be much worse than the last.
Erin: We have to make safety precautions; we’re getting a plan ready of what we're gonna do for that night. We’re talking about getting someone up here at the door, and we don't ever have a door person with how laid back this place is. We’re gonna make sure everything is safe and going smoothly.
On April 19, 2023, Heather and Erin met with city commissioner, Duncan Walker to discuss solutions to the problems these block parties bring to the Gainesville community. Walker said she would call the city manager after the meeting and asked Heather and Erin to get more businesses together for another meeting with police and city members. She wants all the business owners and police to come up with resolutions. We have to hope solutions are found to the problems these block parties bring to Gainesville, or they will continue to impact our community violently.